A history of California’s missions
Spanish soldiers and Franciscan friars, led by 55-year-old Father Junípero Serra, found the first Alta California mission in San Diego. Spain’s king is eager to strengthen his hold on the region before Russian fur-traders can move south from Alaska. Once baptized, Indian converts (known as “neophytes”) are typically forced to remain and are taught farming, weaving, carpentry and leather-working.
The Chumash revolt at missions Santa Inés in Solvang, La Purisima and Santa Barbara. Unlike previous attacks on missions launched by Indians living elsewhere, this attack comes from neophytes within the mission. The Chumash capture La Purisima and hold it for four weeks until Spanish reinforcements from Monterey retake the mission. About 20 Chumash, four innocent travelers and one soldier die in the fighting. Afterward, the Spanish execute seven Chumash.
Mexico begins secularizing the missions. By plan, half of the missions’ property is supposed to go to support the Indians, half to priests and others. Instead, well-connected ranchers, farmers and soldiers with Spanish bloodlines make a land grab as some 10 million acres pass to private ownership.
The U.S. defeats Mexico, claims Alta California and New Mexico, pays Mexico $15 million and assumes $3 million more in debts. Gold is discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, sparking a gold rush that brings a flood of Americans to the state. Indians are shouldered out of mining jobs, denied the right to vote. Thousands more have died from smallpox and scarlet fever.
At the Sonoma Mission, state parks officials dedicate a black granite commemorative wall on the west side of the church that lists baptismal names for all 896 neophytes buried at the mission. The wall makes Sonoma the first mission to display all the names of neophytes in its cemetery. Donors to the Sonoma Mission Indian Memorial Fund include the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa. The fund’s president, Edward Castillo, has said he came up with the idea after his daughter returned from a school trip that included little mention of the Indians’ contribution.
Marking the 300th anniversary of Junípero Serra’s birth, San Marino’s Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens unveils the exhibition “Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions,” co-curated by UC Riverside associate history professors Steven Hackel and Catherine Gudis. The show runs Aug. 17 through Jan. 6, 2014.